Monday, March 7, 2016

Some Books in Dialogue, but First, Habermas in the Vertical Turn

As usual, I am late to the party, but grateful nonetheless for Amazon's analytics of my purchases and browsing there. I recently came across Habermas's and Ratzinger's The Dialectic of Secularization (Ignatius, 2007) and was stunned to find Habermas moving toward an authentic communication between secular reason and religious thought. In part responding to the stagnation of European liberal democracies and the disillusionment of citizens as expressed as a growing apathy toward the democratic process, Habermas seems to be continuing his exploration of religion and theology as a voice otherwise absent in the discourse of the post-secular, post-metaphysical 'lifeworld,' and taking it to the unexpected terrain of legitimation. So long as that voice, it would seem, offers something distinctly absent and wanting in secular rationality, its presence at the table of reasonable conversation is welcome. Indeed, in what was to me a startling movement of ideas in his Between Naturalism and Religion (Polity Pr., 2008), I find that Habermas's program is not merely pragmatic and post-secular, but also generative, alive and on the move.

Well that sounds so much like a turn toward verticality, as that idea has floated in this blog but certainly as enunciated in the recent works of Anthony Steinbock, especially in his Phenomenology and Mysticism. In his critique of the 'vertical' element of the 1st generation of the Frankfurt school of critical theory, Habermas had found a pessimistic messianism, for example, in the thought of Adorno and Horkheimer. Eduardo Mendieta has assembled a cross-section of Habermas' essays from the 1980s through the late 90s that traces the initial sojourn into this arena, in Religion and Rationality (Polity Pr., 2002), and the intimations of a theological 'turn.' How far down that turn goes remains to be seen, yet Habermas seems open to a real depth; but with a proviso: he has recently suggested, in light of his critique of Rawls (and Rorty), that religious language and its 'truth contents' that enter into the public sphere should be translated into a 'generally acceptable language' prior to their presentation to the bar of the democratic secular apparatus (The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, NY: Columbia Univ.Pr., 2011, 25).

I make these observations not to rehabilitate Habermas for a religious audience, but to underscore the vibrancy of one of the 2oth century's most interesting thinkers, one whose thought has not come to rest in the past, but actively engages the 21st century; and to underscore the relative deafness of many of the thinkers so central lately to this blog toward Habermas's transformations. Habermas, after all, is no stranger to Husserl and other phenomenological thinkers, and while his work is not of a phenomenological flavor, it does indeed speak of a lifeworld, and implicitly, how the homeworld and alienworld might interact to co-create the lifeworld and invigorate the level of discourse and value the experiences of all potential political participants. Habermas might not himself have moved off the horizontal plane, but he seems to have positioned himself toward the vertical realm by de-limiting what is proper to the public sphere.

I offer this post as something of a prolegomena to placing God, the Flesh and the Other (2014), In Excess (2002), and Phenomenology and Mysticism (2009)in a broad dialogue that would not be tone deaf to the social imaginaries as they appear in Marion and Steinbock, but also in Habermas and Falque. I will not chide our phenomenologists for their shyness toward Habermas, which I interpret as an uncertainty toward his place in the discourse of theology and phenomenology. I will simply keep Habermas 'out there,' poised to jump in,  similar to our engagement with Agamben not too long ago.

I am placing these books and their authors in dialogue because I seem them in such a dialogue already. Steinbock's discussion of "Individuation" in P&M and its far-reaching implications for the self, givenness, redemption, the flesh, has its resonances with Marion's discussion of the flesh, and with Falque's discussion of the flesh, haecceity, singularity and his presentation of Tertullian, Irenaeus and Duns Scotus.

I will be fleshing all this out in a subsequent post, but for now, I simply want to draw attention to the problem of individuation, especially as Steinbock dispassionately and painstakingly explicates it. Because Steinbock has remained within an orthodoxy of Husserlian phenomenology, despite bringing the founder's thought into a more robust 'generativity,' he still must confront the problem of essences, which leads him to distinguish individuation from 'individualization'. While this maneuver, remarkably, does no violence to his presentation of individuation per se, it does proffer a certain distrust of givenness, and in particular, a phenomenology of givenness. Steinbock distrusts, too, as does Merleau-Ponty, just how complete the 'reduction' can become. Both thinkers are therefore 'stuck' in Husserl's 'givenness' which translates in Steinbock's work as a necessary distance between 'verticality' and the 'saturated phenomenon,' and as a description of the inadequacy of the latter. So long as the description of verticality and individuation remains tied to even a muted Cartesian metaphysics, this version of generative phenomenology will maintain a jaundiced eye upon a full-blown phenomenology of givenness as Marion's oeuvre strongly evidences.

Falque's GFO struck me as another version of P&M, even if just superficially as doing for Irenaeus and others what Steinbock has done for his mystics. Both works accomplish remarkable feats of philosophy, but they are also marked by a suspicion towards Marion, his saturated phenomenon, his overplaying the anti-metaphysics card, and his description of givenness. But make no mistake about it, the language through which the 'truth content' of religion and religious language enters the public sphere is the language of phenomenology.

In my next post, I will be keeping Habermas's work in the natural attitude, while I look at the general swerve moving through some of the thought of Steinbock, Falque and Marion as suggested above.

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